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Setting the stage, from Bolton Theater to Transformers 4

Setting the stage, from Bolton Theater to Transformers 4

By Staff

For Rosemary Brandenburg ’79, a love of theater that began in high school and became a centerpiece of her time at Kenyon is now the foundation of a formidable career as a set decorator for films. Brandenburg has decorated for such projects as Amistad, Transformers 4 and What Women Want, and has worked with directors from Steven Spielberg to Michael Bay.

While a student at The National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., Brandenburg met Ted Walch ’63, a Kenyon alumnus who would become a driving force and constant presence throughout her education and career. “Ted Walch was the chairman of the drama department at St. Albans, the brother school to NCS,” Brandenburg said. “So I spent all my spare moments in the theater in high school, and also that segued right into when I went to Kenyon.”

So when Brandenburg came to Kenyon, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. “I was always much more directed by, ムis the audience going to come?’ than ムis your paper due?'”

During her time at Kenyon, Brandenburg discovered what she truly loved about theater ラ set design ラ and was able to jump right in. “The thing that ended up standing out for me as a person was that I was very attracted to the physical part of it, which is making order out of chaos,” she said. “At Kenyon I learned not only backstage work but also stage-managing.”

But despite her attraction to order, Brandenburg’s own academic path was far from linear. She spent her junior year in Paris, where she continued to study drama, and then took a year off entirely, during which she held an internship as a stage manager at the Folger Theatre in D.C.

During Brandenburg’s senior year at Kenyon, in 1979, the Bolton Theater opened with a production of C.C. Pyle and the Bunion Derby ラ a play written for the occasion by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Michael Cristofer and directed by alumnus Paul Newman ’49. Brandenburg stage-managed the production, which incidentally was also the show in which Allison Janney ’82 made her own Kenyon theatre debut.

After graduating from Kenyon, Brandenburg was hired as a production manager at the Studio Theater in Washington, D.C. “When I was working in theatre in D.C., I was a pretty big fish in a pretty small pond,” Brandenburg said, but despite her relative post-graduation success, she was frustrated with the financial realities of the artistic world. “I still had to work in a restaurant to make ends meet,” she said.

Soon thereafter, Brandenburg landed a yearlong position as an assistant art director for a children’s television series just outside of the capital. “The light bulb went off, pretty much,” she said. “Not only was I working and making enough money to not [work another job], but also I was with an awful lot of interesting people, and it became very obvious that, as a technical person, I needed to be working in film.”

In her current position as a film set decorator, Brandenburg moves ahead of the production, scouting and prepping locations before the actors, director and crew arrive to shoot. She manages crews from 30 to 60 people, and oversees everything from finding buildings for sets to finding, designing and making props that would make sense in the context of the film. “It’s funny, because on one level I’m doing props and theater in college, and I’m kind of doing the same thing that I did then, only different, on a different scale, with more intensity,” she said. “Now I’m doing fully realized sets, 360 degrees around ラ they could be city blocks, or furniture, or carts and wagons. Set decoration works to fill in the environment.”

Brandenburg said she enjoys the creativity involved in sci-fi and fantasy films, such as her current project, Transformers 4.

“This kind of film allows you to have what we call a ムtheatrical event,’ which is fun, and something I learned at Kenyon in our theatre classes ラ a sort of spectacle of the thing, the ability to really exaggerate stuff,” she said.

Brandenburg particularly enjoys working for historical films, as the depth of contextual research needed for decoration allows her to fully delve into the time period.

“A previous project to that, which was a wonderful piece for me, was Amistad, the Spielberg film,” she said. “It was a huge challenge, set in 1840. So learning all the nuances of what life in 1840 was like, finding out all the technological reasons why the fabrics were the colors they were, the conventions and advancements in chemical process of dyeing ラ it’s just wonderful to get a chance to not only know these little factoids, but also to use them, learning how to make them work in the piece, how to make it look like it happened.”

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